One of the most beautiful things about being Catholic is that no matter how long one is Catholic there is always more to learn about the faith. There are always deeper depths to plumb.
One of these depths that I’ve recently found myself exploring is the Church’s Liturgy. The rite and ritual. The how and the why we do things a certain way. And, while I’ve always known that the Church’s ancient traditions run deep, I’ve been absolutely awestruck at just how deep and how much meaning is infused in the reasons why we worship the way that we do.
Take, for example, the Orate fratres. This is priest’s exhortation,
“Pray, my brothers and sisters, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the Almighty Father.”
I’d wondered, now and again, what my sacrifice at the Mass could possibly be and, I admit, I didn’t always understand. But a deeper exploration of the Liturgy, in particular the Orate fratres, rewards us with some pretty substantial riches—and, at least for me, a more rich experience of the Mass.
This particular exhortation has its origins in Scripture and the Early Church. In the ancient Christian Church when the celebration of the Eucharist took place gifts were brought alongside of the bread and wine. These gifts were representative of the talents, abilities, and material things that these early Christians had to offer up to God. They were brought, substantially, so that they could be used by God, through Christ, for the Church.
It’s a beautiful picture.
Imagine a community of Christians gathered around the Lord’s Table each bringing their own tangible offering alongside of the bread and wine. These things weren’t there to overshadow the true purpose of the Lord’s Supper or to somehow shore up the sacrifice of the Mass but to allow each of the Christians present to participate in a meaningful way. In other words, all Christians have something to give to God and these things, in the Early Church, were brought before Him in a very tangible way.
So, what does the Orate fratres invite us to do when we celebrate Mass today?
Well, for one thing, it invites us to bring something.
And this is an important reminder.
In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the priest is re-presenting the once-and-for-all sacrifice of Christ on the Cross back to God the Father. This is a picture of what we know is taking place, right now, in Heaven, and the Mass makes it visible. It’s deeply theological, but it’s a breathtakingly beautiful, too. The priest, acting in the image of Christ, is saying, “God, remember your people. Remember your sacrifice. Cleave us to you.”The Orate fratres reminds us that even though we are not the priest, we are not acting as Christ, we have a part in God’s sacrifice too—as baptized members of the Body of Christ. We have a role to play.
Today, in lieu of bringing my donkey to donate to the church we often give a tithe or an offering during this very same part of the Mass—it’s called the offertory for a reason—but money is only a very small part of what our “sacrifice” ought to be.
St. Paul, in Romans 12:1, offers us a hint of what the fullness of this sacrifice at Mass should be,
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
Our worship, our sacrifice at Mass, should be the whole of ourselves.
Our joys, our sorrows, our victories, and our defeats. Given up to Christ for His glory and for His help. An acknowledgement that nothing good can come to us apart from Him and that we can do nothing good on our own. We need Christ, so to speak.
The Orate fratres exhorts us to bring our own sacrifice to the Mass.
Not that we need to outdo what Christ did on the cross, this is the wrong kind of thinking. Likewise, by bringing our own sacrifice we don’t seek to somehow justify our own sin. Instead, to participate fully in the Mass, as we should, the Orate fratres invites us to think about how we can more fully give ourselves up to Christ, how we can more fully be like Him, be joined to Him, in His mystical body.
By bringing our own sacrifice we bring our hurts, hangups, and whatever we’re holding on to and leave it all at the foot of the cross. Like the Early Church we, too, bring something with us to the Lord’s Table every time we come.
So, next time you hear the priest pray, “my sacrifice and yours” think about what you can sacrifice to be more like Christ. To join your spirit to the Body of Christ. To bring to God, for His glory. And offer that up to God.